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Nextgen infrastructure will make or break collaboration tools

Nextgen infrastructure could make or break collaboration tools

Sean Bryson

by Sean Bryson

VP, Americas Solutions and Innovation business at Hitachi Consulting

Let’s face it. Collaboration tools need better backbone technology to reach their full potential. Here we explore some of the key capabilities they enable and the nextgen infrastructure we need to build to employ next-gen collaboration.

Over the past decade, cloud and mobile technologies have changed virtually everything in our lives as workers and as consumers.

A decade ago, Apple hadn’t yet opened the App Store for its new iPhone. Amazon was just introducing the Amazon Web Services (AWS) platform. Most organizations had embarked on projects to virtualize their physical servers, with virtualized storage and networking also gathering steam.

The common approach to designing a corporate network then was based on three core components: an Internet connection, a DMZ (or demilitarized zone) and an internal network. During this decade, the rise of increasingly powerful mobile devices, combined with the growing push toward cloud-based applications, has radically changed how people work, where people work and where data resides. These changes will only increase in velocity, requiring companies to fundamentally rethink how services are designed and delivered.

The major trend in collaboration tools and capabilities is to empower people to work anywhere and on any device. With this push, traditional enterprise networks and tools will need to evolve. When organizations don’t change rapidly enough and embrace these new technologies and capabilities, customers often seek alternatives, which can undermine the business and its data.

The next decade’s needs: Nextgen infrastructure

Major changes will continue to disrupt existing businesses and systems. These will require continuous adaptations to backbone infrastructure, particularly existing networks, and to how collaboration tools are designed and implemented.

First, the role of the primary user device will continue to shift. Apple, Google and Microsoft are all working on designs that move toward always-connected systems with days of battery life and standby operations of multiple weeks. These devices will load in seconds, shifting easily from a powered-off state to a ready state. Fundamental aspects of the always-connected experience will be network connectivity anywhere and the integration of voice services. Employees will be more able to work – and access data – from anywhere. Further, use of voice and video services will only increase as collaboration expands.

"Changes to business will require adaptation of backbone infrastructure, particularly existing networks, and to how collaboration tools are designed and implemented."

Second, the transition to the fifth-generation (5G) mobile networks is now well under way. 5G mobile network technologies will provide a significant jump in mobile data speeds, will greatly expand the number of devices that can be connected, will offer much lower-latency connections and will bring expanded coverage. An important aspect of this transition into 5G is that network speeds will begin to rival those of wired networks and Wi-Fi systems – especially those in homes. As 5G matures, there is a strong possibility that individuals and some organizations may favor the use of 5G over traditional Wi-Fi systems.

Third, the rollout of devices for the Internet of Things (IoT) is just beginning. Over the next decade, at least 20 billion to 30 billion IoT-enabled devices will be in use; some predictions put the number at as high as 1 trillion devices. These devices will integrate into every major device, platform, technology, machine and service used by consumers and corporations and will fundamentally alter the business landscape. When combined with 5G network technologies, these devices will create new service categories, such new video services or even artificial reality driven environments.

Fourth, machine learning and artificial intelligence tools will become commonplace in every organization. These services will consume the massive amounts of data generated by IoT devices, individuals and corporate systems, producing results and recommendations faster than any human. This change will fundamentally alter many jobs, with 20% to 30% of current job roles likely no longer existing a decade from now.

Fifth, the amount of data being collected will continue to soar, while the cost of storage plummets. By 2030, there will likely be more than 120 zettabytes (ZB) of data connected to the Internet, and standard personal devices will contain up to 300 to 500 terabytes (TB) of local data. This volume of data will require shifts in analytical tools and will place a greater need on artificial intelligence and machine learning tools to process the data and discover insights.

The explosion of data, greater network capabilities, increases in sensors, wider availability of both machine learning and artificial intelligence, and new types of devices will fundamentally alter how and where collaboration happens and how those capabilities are delivered through nextgen infrastructure.

Driving technology to the business needs

Collaboration tools will undergo change given the technology advancements coming over the next decade. Employees will become even more mobile, accessing much larger amounts of data, and collaboration will be powered by new types of artificial intelligence and machine learning. But failing to plan for and to adapt to new technology could expose a business to severe financial risks. In the case of laws like the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), for example, penalties of up to tens of millions of dollars, or 4% of global revenue, can be levied when companies fail to protect and control the use of data.

Organizations need to understand their business goals and strategies first and then evaluate how technology can address these goals. Every enterprise will be affected significantly with the coming technology changes. Modernizing our technology foundation to develop next-gen infrastructure is key.

Companies that embrace these changes can create entirely new markets and products. For example, a company that manufactures and sells a piece of hardware may become a software and services business. The use of IoT technologies and the data collected by those devices will unlock new insights, allowing the business to create new products and, sometimes, entirely new strategies.

"Companies that embrace change can create entirely new markets and products."

The increased mobility of the workforce will also continue to change what the company office is and how employees work. Some organizations may elect to close offices, while others create an increased number of small and pop-up offices. These changes can empower enterprises to become more agile and better serve customers. To accommodate this, organizations need to be prepared to fundamentally change how they approach everything from network design, access, policies, data controls, data management, device management, security and how collaboration tools are integrated into these services.

Ultimately, the very idea of what collaboration tools are and how they are used will likely need to change. An organization’s ability to be agile, to respond to customers quickly and to identify new markets will become even more critical.

Consider a common consumer experience today. How long will an individual wait for a movie to start on Netflix before she abandons a session and moves to a different service provider? How long will a customer wait to complete an online checkout experience before he abandons the cart and uses a different provider?

These same principles will become even more important as organizations look to better serve customers. Consider the manufacturing model mentioned previously. Will an organization buy a large industrial product from a company that does not offer predictive maintenance, greater insights into the device or intelligent solutions that can help a purchaser extend the life or value of the equipment? And how long will a company wait to make a purchase or a decision when multiple options are available from other sources?

What, then, will these collaboration tools look like? They will start with entirely new types of devices, some of which might seem today like elements in a futuristic movie but will be commonplace in a decade. These tools will create insights into data far beyond what is currently possible. Video and audio will be key form factors for every collaboration platform. But, most important, these form factors will allow everyone to respond faster and create new services. For example, imagine a mobile device connected anywhere in the world with a holographic display providing an augmented-reality experience where the individual accesses a digital assistant that reviews billions of events from industrial systems, automatically resolves common issues and then gives data insights that require action. The entire experience takes place using voice as if a digital assistant were a real person. This could be the new type of collaborative experience in the coming decade.

Planning for change

Preparing for all of this change can, and should, begin right now. Employees are already mobile. Collaboration tools in the cloud offer support for larger and larger data sets. IoT systems are already in active use in many industries around the world. We need nextgen infrastructure to accommodate these trends as they develop and expand.

To begin, organizations need to examine their existing technology portfolio and identify what is a core part of the business and what is a commodity service. Email, file storage, device management and so forth could be considered commodity services that, while required to support the business, do not drive revenue. Organizations should consider moving such services to a cloud application provider, which would allow the business to focus IT resources and spending on the services and capabilities directly related to revenue. These are the services that need innovation, thought leadership and dedication.

"Preparing for all of this change can, and should, begin right now."

Second, organizations need to rethink and modernize existing network design and topology. Many corporate networks were built around hub-and-spoke models with Internet traffic optimized to specific locations and then optimized for internal communications. This was appropriate at the time, but with commodity services moving to cloud app providers, the new volume of IoT data and employees being increasingly mobile, networks will not be able to keep up with demand. This may require IoT edge technologies, where data is processed on specific portions of the network and then shipped to a service like a data lake running in a cloud provider. Networks will need increased Internet bandwidth to support existing cloud apps. As IoT devices are added, edge compute and network optimizations will need to be added.

Third, organizations must create or strengthen their data controls and governance policies. With data being stored in cloud providers, increases in data volume, more data sharing with partner organizations, and stricter laws, businesses need to update these controls and governance or establish them for the first time. The growth of machine learning and artificial intelligence tools will also require each organization to decide what it will and won’t allow. For example, will advanced machine learning algorithms created by a major cloud provider be allowed to review and process billions of business-critical records? Then, will an organization allow an artificial intelligence service or digital assistant to make recommendations on this data?

Fourth, an organization needs to know what it will do in the event of a data loss, data breach, or other malicious event. The number of attacks on organizations is only increasing, as bad actors take advantage of these same technology innovations to power new types of attacks. This is a critical consideration, especially as collaboration tools evolve, people become more mobile and data accumulates. All organizations need to plan for loss. It is no longer a question of if these events occur, so failure to properly mitigate risk or handle the fallout could result in heavy fines and other repercussions.

Finally, technology will evolve rapidly. It is critical to stay current on the changes and examine how advancements will affect the business. An unwillingness or inability to change, invest in the technology that will power the business, and not adapting quickly will cause business loss and/or employees to work around rather than through IT organizations. A company that isn’t focused on these challenges puts itself at risk of failing or losing significant market share to competitors that are better prepared to address dramatic technology changes.

Conclusion

Collaboration tools are an important part of what powers business organizations today, and employees already use these tools. Over the next decade, many major technology changes will alter the landscape of what these tools are and what they deliver. These changes will include new types of devices, 5G network technologies, an explosion of IoT devices, significant increases in data and storage, and new types of artificial intelligence and machine learning tools. Combined, these technologies and tools will create entirely new types of collaboration experiences.

IT organizations need to work closely with the business to identify and prepare for changes and shifts to the business strategy, prepare for an increase in mobility needs, and prepare for rapidly changing tools and customer needs.

Organizations should begin now to focus their technology portfolio, rethink their network designs, implement data governance and data management controls, prepare for data loss events, and stay current and ready to adapt and change quickly to support the business.

Organizations that make these investments and leverage these technology changes in their business will be the most successful in attracting and retaining customers and surviving the major changes coming in the next decade.

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Sean Bryson

Sean Bryson is a vice president of the Americas Solutions and Innovation business at Hitachi Consulting.